In April 2018, Amazon Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Amazon, was granted a patent relating to a “technology for a streaming data marketplace” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The technology underlying the patent is described as gathering (online) data streams from various sources and enhancing those streams “by correlating the raw data with additional data.” The patent description lists a number of potential use cases for the streaming data feeds that participants in the market place are offering subscriptions to. One notable use case relates to “bitcoin transactions,” with the ultimate goal of identifying users of the virtual currency by their Bitcoin addresses.
As rightly stated in the patent document, and contrary to common belief, Bitcoin is not an anonymous network. Bitcoin transactions, including the transaction parties’ pseudonymous identities (derived from a pair of two cryptography keys), are publicly available on a ledger called the “blockchain.” For this reason, the date and time of any transaction—and the pseudonymous parties involved—are visible to any participant in the Bitcoin network.
While such pseudonymous data might per se be of little value to potential customers, a correlation of the raw transaction data stream with other useful data could increase the data’s value significantly. As the patent description states: “For example, a group of electronic or internet retailers who accept bitcoin transactions may have a shipping address that may correlate with the bitcoin address.” Depending on the additional data correlated with the transaction data, the patented technology might allow Bitcoin users to be identified by their transaction history.
A Look Ahead
Data marketplaces are not a new idea. But the inclusion of data from Bitcoin and other virtual currency transactions would spark an interest from many people and institutions. And, as expressly mentioned in the patent description, law enforcement, in particular, would find Bitcoin user identification very helpful.